“I love the Zags – I really do!” country music superstar Blake Shelton proclaimed unexpectedly during his Friends and Heroes 2020 Tour stop at the Spokane Arena on Saturday night.
The four-hour celebration of country music old and new was equally a showcase for Shelton’s natural charisma, talent and humor and Shelton’s friends and heroes – music industry upstarts and legends Lauren Alaina, John Anderson, the Bellamy Brothers and Trace Adkins.
And the jam-packed Arena was on its feet for much of the evening – even during ballads – with ringleader Shelton keeping the energy up for a solid Saturday night setlist of 40-plus songs in Spokane country.
After Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” played, Georgia singer-songwriter and actress Lauren Alaina took the stage promptly at 7 p.m. in a black top and fabulous, high-waisted silver-glitter pants. Her 30-minute set was stellar.
Her setlist included “Doin’ Fine,” “Ladies in the ’90s,” “Getting Good,” “The Other Side,” “What Ifs” (her biggest hit to date, a duet with Kane Brown, who was featured in their video on a ginormous LED screen) and “Road Less Traveled,” her breakout solo hit.
During “Ladies in the ’90s,” a tall, plaid-clad male fan tried to get Alaina’s attention at the foot of the catwalk but was stopped by security, and Alaina chased him down and shook his hand – props to her. For “Getting Good,” she reminded the Arena to “count your blessings – I just finished a sold-out solo tour, and now I’m opening for Blake Shelton!”
“The Other Side” was a touching tribute to her late stepfather, Sam Ranker Jr., and the evening’s most emotional moment. During the crowd singalong of “Road Less Traveled,” she handed drumsticks to two young girls at the foot of the main stage and introduced her four-man band to end her engaging set.
Alaina reminds of Kelly Clarkson and Jessica Simpson, but the “American Idol” Season 10 runner-up and fourth-place finisher on “Dancing With the Stars” (“Thank you to those of you who voted for me on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ ” she said after “The Other Side”) has established her own identity and way – and her logo, LA (insert heart emoji here) is adorbs.
Watching Alaina’s deserved career ascension is exciting, and let’s hope the road takes her to continued success.
The night’s main man – a tall drink of water at 6-foot-5 and People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2017 – hit the stage at 8:05 p.m. with “Neon Light” wearing a black long-sleeve button-up, long-sleeve light gray undershirt and blue jeans.
Shelton’s first words: “Spokane!” (He pronounced it correctly). “You’re in store for one of the craziest concerts you’ve ever witnessed,” he continued, and he wasn’t wrong.
Shelton’s hit-filled setlist also included “All About Tonight,” “Doin’ What She Likes,” “Came Here to Forget,” “Sangria,” “The More I Drink,” “Mine Would Be You,” “Lonely Tonight,” “A Guy With a Girl,” “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” “Nobody But You” and the syrupy sweet – get it? – “Honey Bee.”
Shelton accepted a large, heart-shaped card emblazoned with “Blake” in glitter from a fan and showed it off to the crowd. Before singing “Sangria,” he talked of the attributes of whiskey and vodka – he has a line of vodka, wink, wink – and after “The More I Drink” toasted “to country music!” in celebration of two decades since he released his first album.
He said his song “Mine Would Be You” was one of his all-time favorites, and Alaina subbed for Ashley Monroe during the duet “Lonely Tonight.” Shelton quipped that it was awkward even for him to sing a sensual song with “Lauren, my granddaughter.” An 18-year age difference isn’t that bad, is it? Age is only a number, right?
And during “Nobody But You,” Shelton’s girlfriend (fiancée?) Gwen Stefani was featured prominently on the big screen in their duet (Stefani on this night was performing in Las Vegas wrapping up her “Just a Girl” headliner run at Planet Hollywood).
One of the best aspects of the “Friends and Heroes” evening was the Arena crowd showering their love upon the legends on the bill, and Anderson was up first at 9 p.m. Fan girl Alaina could be seen stage side, and Anderson’s short set included “Money in the Bank” and “Swingin’.”
Anderson thanked Shelton for being part of the tour, and his female violinist, who could pass for Tina Fey’s mother, received loud applause from the audience. “That’s a hero right there – that’s a Hall of Famer,” Shelton said as Anderson exited the stage.
Shelton then performed “Gonna,” “Home” (a ballad also made popular by Michael Buble), “Boys ’Round Here” and “I’ll Name the Dogs,” which he dedicated to a couple who were “80 and 85 and came to see you live,” according to their poster board on the big screen.
The Bellamy Brothers
The Bellamy Brothers – Florida siblings David Milton Bellamy and Homer Howard Bellamy – performed three songs: “Let Your Love Flow,” “Do You Love As Good As You Look” and “Redneck Girl.”
“Dear God in heaven, those are heroes, those are icons,” said Shelton, who also teased David Bellamy for “the marijuana leaves” on his shirt. From the lower rafters, it looked like palm fronds, but we’ll trust Shelton on this one.
Shelton then performed “Drink On It,” his early hit “Some Beach” and the showstoppers “Ol’ Red” and “God’s Country” before the final guest act of the evening.
With his signature bass-baritone singing voice and black leather midlength coat and matching cowboy hat, Trace Adkins walked onstage at 10 p.m. to belt “Honkytonk Badonkadonk” – this song is oh-so-catchy and, let’s be honest, sexist.
Then it was the ballad “You’re Gonna Miss This” and “Ladies Love Country Boys” (so do gentlemen). Shelton also joined Adkins onstage for “Hell Right” and “Hillbilly Bone.”
“This tour is a dream – these are my heroes,” said Shelton before the Bellamy Brothers and Anderson joined Shelton and Adkins onstage for a fun, if a bit overly long, game of “Which One of Us Has the Greatest Country Song?”
Shelton quipped that Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Garth Brooks and George Strait – the latter two received loud applause – were backstage – and staying there, wink, wink – to judge. This also is the segment of the show where Shelton exclaimed his love for Spokane and a top college basketball team at Gonzaga University: “I love the Zags – I really do!”
The Arena audience seemed to love each performance equally. First up was Shelton’s “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” then it was the Bellamy Brothers’ “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me.”
Adkins performed “Every Light in the House Is On” and Anderson “Straight Tequila Night,” to add to the evening’s whiskey and vodka, and the four gentlemen then exited the stage to wild and appreciative applause.
As the clock ticked toward 11 p.m., Shelton then performed the first song he released, “Nobody But Me,” and the rousing encore was “God Gave Me You.”
This is the second iteration of Shelton’s “Friends and Heroes Tour,” which began on Thursday night at the Moda Center in Portland. The next tour date is Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield, California, on Thursday.
The larger-than-life and anthemic “God’s Country” is Shelton’s latest No. 1 hit on the U.S. Country chart. On this night, Shelton and his “Friends and Heroes” ruled Spokane and God’s country.
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